Jesus has ridden triumphantly into Jerusalem, cleared the temple of money changers, and begun to teach. Chapter 24 speaks to the future. Some believe this chapter addressees Jesus’ return at the end of the age while others believe this points to the events of 70 A.D. when the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed by the Romans. Still others believe it refers to both. The architecture of the temple was a source of pride among the Jews but the destruction of both city and temple was a sign of God’s judgement. The Greek term for return is parousia, which can mean coming or appearing. The disciples asked Jesus when the end of the world would occur. They wanted to know what signs to look for. Jesus’ second coming will bring normal history to a close with decisive judgement. The disciples assumed that the destruction of the temple and the end of history were closely related. From verses 4-8 Jesus warned the disciples…us too…not to be deceived by imposters or overwhelmed with calamities in hope of a premature end to history. Time must run its preset course and the signs predicted in these verses are not necessarily signs of the end. Instead, they are signs prior to the end. The disciples and us are to be on the lookout for false prophets and false messiahs. There will be miracle workers who evoke messianic images and persuade the masses to follow them in hopes of deliverance during the period between AD 30-70. Today we see false prophets and teachers who have large crowds. The crowds are large because these false teachers are telling the people what they want to hear and not the truth Jesus speaks. Check out what Paul has to say to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3. There will be wars and rumors of wars but God’s people are not to panic. Tumultuous times are part of God’s sovereign plan as He brings history to a close. Again, the end could refer to an epoch such as at 70 A.D. or the end of human history as we know it. There will be wars on a broad scale, perhaps even a worldwide scale. And during the tribulation the sorrows and birth pangs will intensify. Intense anguish is expected just prior to Jesus’ second coming.
Jesus’ warning for those who choose to follow is not comforting. Followers will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. And…everybody will hate them. At the end of the first century the Roman historian Tacitus described Christians as “the hated ones of mankind.” The persecution will cause many followers to abandon Jesus for their own safety. False prophets will run rampant, deceiving people, and the love of many others will grow cold. This means that if the love within the community of Jesus’s followers diminishes to the point of extinction, then the community ceases to be what God has designed it to be. Sin will be pervasive. But the ones who persevere, the ones who endure and maintain faithful allegiance to Jesus despite persecution, will survive. Again there are questions about the end. The end here in verse 13 could refer to the end of one’s life, the judgement against Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or the end of history. Or, some of each. Jesus speaks of the Good News being preached throughout the world means there will be an expansive Gentile mission and conversion. There will be a delay, however long or short, during which the Good News will spread significantly throughout the nations. The final end will be signaled by a sacrilegious object , furious persecution, and finally the sign of the Son of Man.
Jesus spoke of prophecy from the Book of Daniel and the desecrating of the temple. Daniel refers specifically to Antiochus IV who desecrated the temple by setting up a statue of Zeus in it. His actions were a prelude to what the ultimate man of sin will do. In 70 A.D. Titus destroyed Jerusalem, burned down the temple, and set up an idol to mock the Jews. Paul also talks about the antichrist at the end times, setting himself up as a god also. At the time of the destruction many of the Christians did flee, hiding in the cliffs of Petra. The terror would be such that the people will not return to get anything. They will just run as fast and as far as they can. If this a occurred in the winter there would be challenges. It would be difficult to travel because the roads would be muddy. The Jordan River would swell because of the rains and it was more difficult to cross. And Jews did not normally travel on the sabbath. If they did it was never more than three quarters of a mile. There will be great anguish, and times of blatant savagery, more than at any other time in the world. In other words, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Gods will place a limit on the tribulation otherwise no one will survive. Christians will not have to endure persecution forever. Christ will intervene and the chosen ones will endure and remain faithful. We will read in the Book of Revelation about the ultimate false prophet who will be tossed into the Lake of fire. There will be signs and wonders but not all of them will be positive. Verses 27-28 are an expansion of verse 23. The place and manner of the Messiah’s appearing was disputed among the Jews but His glorious appearance and vindication will be unmistakable. Some Jewish prophets persuaded the masses to follow them into the desert to see signs of deliverance. Matthew uses weather here to describe Jesus returning. It will be like the lightning that flashes in the eastern sky and can be seen all the way to the western sky. This is also an allusion to the astrological phenomena that attends Jesus coming. It is not the brightness but the suddenness plus the magnitude of its visibility. Jesus may have taught this to ward off premature excitement regarding the end.
The sign that the Son of Man is coming is probably a reference to the Son of Man Himself. His coming expresses His vindication and will bring deep mourning to those who experience God’s judgement. Everyone will see Him coming, coming on the clouds, just like He ascended into Heaven after His resurrection. He will preside over the earth as both judge and deliverer. Some believe this is just Jesus returning but not judgement. The elect will be gathered, both Jews and Gentiles and this will begin Christ’s glorious reign. Many believe that the rapture of God’s people through the angels is predicted here. Others believe that the angels here are human messengers and that Jesus is describing the expansion of the Good News among Gentiles. Jesus describes the end like the fig tree. People knew the signs of a fig tree and when it would produce fruit. In the same way people will know when the end is near, by the signs. It is clear some of these things will occur before the second coming. But Jesus also makes it crystal clear that no one but the Father knows when the second coming will be. Our job is to be ready. His return will be sudden, just like the rains and flood in the days of Noah. The comparison to Noah has nothing to do with the magnitude of sins but the preoccupation with hints of the world vs. things of the Lord. Verses 40-41 always cause problems and there are several interpretations. Some believe that the one taken is on the way to the final judgement and the one left will experience salvation at Christ’s return. Others believe the one who is taken is among the elect that the Son of Man will gather. Still others believe the term taken most likely means taken in judgement either at 70 A.D. or at the end of history and the one left would then enter the new era of either the church or the Millennium. When Jesus speaks of keeping watch that is not a passive thing. Keeping watch is maintaining active, energetic, single minded obedience to the Lord.
Between verses 24:45 and chapter 51 there are four parables that speak to the importance of faithful obedience during the time we wait for Jesus second coming. The bottom line is we are not to wait idly by. We still have work to do, people to share the Good News with, and continuing work on our relationship with the Lord. When Jesus speaks of servant it is the prophets or even the disciples though both of them would be included. Here servant refers to a description of every disciples responsibility.
The parable of the ten bridesmaids reinforces the need for each of us to be watchful and to prepare for the return of Christ. Meeting the bridegroom is an image for the coming of the Messiah. The bridesmaids, who had already escorted the bride to the grooms house would then wait for the news of the grooms arrival and they would escort him to the feast. Others think the groom may have come to the brides home where he was announced. Often oil is a symbol for the Holy Spirit but here it is simply showing that proper preparation is necessary for the second coming. Both the prudent and the foolish sleep while they are waiting but the parable criticizes only the foolish because they were not prepared. They had no extra oil for their lamps. This highlights the fact that Jesus will return unannounced and at a time we do not expect. We must be ready. The next parable teaches that the Lord expects His servants to be faithful to the task as they wait for His return. The delay of Christ’s return will cause some to turn to evil deeds, some to inactivity, and some to fearful passivity. The master was gone a long time. This highlights the long delay of Christ’s return. The first two servants received the same reward, even though they had received different amounts of money. Their reward was based on faithfulness, not the size of their responsibilities. The smallest task in God’s work may receive a great reward if we are faithful in performing it. There were celebrations for faithful work.
The third servant was lazy and unfaithful, because if he had really feared his master he would have put the money in the bank for it to earn interest. A false understanding of his master becomes this servants excuse for laziness. This parable illustrates that a person must use what God has given to them or else they will lose it and it will be given to one who will make a difference in Jesus name with it. This includes abilities and spiritual gifts as well as material possessions. This unprofitable servant is one who fails to be faithful to the tasks given by the master. This servant will not share in any rewards. God gives abundant grace to those who are faithful with what they have already been given.
The final parable here, verses 31-46, is a description of the final judgement of which Jesus has been warning. For Jesus to sit upon His throne is a posture of judgement and the right hand is a place of honor. The deeds described in verses 35-36 are often called deeds of mercy where acts of compassion are shown to the helpless. These good deeds are not attempts to merit God’s favor. Instead they arise from a love for Christ that results in compassion towards others. The righteous ones are those who do God’s will as taught by Jesus, expressed most clearly in deeds of love. The brothers and sisters in verse 40 expresses either Jesus’ solidarity with His disciples or His solidarity with humanity in general, irrespective of the faith of the one being helped. What we see here are consequences. There are always consequences whether we do good or evil. Jesus acknowledges this here but here the stakes are high. Those who do the will of the Lord and tend to others will find themselves in eternity with the Lord. Those who ignore the needs of others will find themselves in a much worse place, separated from the Lord. The interesting thing is, both groups; those who help and those who don’t, do not recognize the Lord in their helping or not. Eternal punishment can either mean lasting forever, or lasting for an age, in this case the age to come. The parallel between eternal life and eternal punishment suggests strongly that it means lasting forever since eternal life does not end. No matter what, we are called to be ready, to do the will of the Lord and wait, not sitting idly by but serving the Lord.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W